Michigan offense gets big boost from 'Barney-style' approach

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh

The Michigan offensive linemen aren’t the only ones who have appreciated first-year offensive line coach Ed Warinner’s simplified approach to coaching the position.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh appeared Wednesday morning on 97.1 The Ticket’s “Jamie and Stoney” show and discussed a number of topics ahead of Saturday’s in-state grudge match against Michigan State. Michigan has won six straight and is ranked No. 6 (6-1, 4-0 Big Ten) and Michigan State is ranked No. 24 (4-2, 2-1) and coming off an upset of Penn State on the road.

He was asked how the line has made such significant improvement since the season-opening loss at Notre Dame and his response to running back Karan Higdon’s comment after the Wisconsin game that Michigan has the best offensive line in the country. Michigan was among the nation's worst in tackles for loss and sacks allowed but currently are 35th in sacks allowed (11 total) and 36th in tackles for loss allowed (36 total) through seven games.

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Harbaugh said he most enjoys sitting in on Warinner’s position meetings and appreciates how he breaks things down “Barney-style,” a reference to the children’s purple dinosaur character.

“A couple big ways that they’ve progressed,” Harbaugh told the “Jamie and Stoney” show, referring to the offensive line. “One, individually, each guy playing their best football, and a big part was their offseason training. Each guy was really serious. You could see it in the offseason working with Ben Herbert and the strength staff. They were very dedicated.

“Secondly, they’re playing really good as a group, and they’re playing really good at combinations, and a big part of that has been coaching. Ed has done a fantastic job. He’s a great teacher. I love going to his meetings and just sitting there, maybe more than anybody on the team. I like Ed’s meetings. I like the way he teaches. Like a great teacher, (he) makes the complicated simple, rather than taking the simple and making it sound complicated. He breaks it down Barney-style.”

Jamie Samuelsen, a father of three, apparently was thrown by the reference.

“What’s Barney-style?” he asked.

“Barney’s the purple dinosaur,” Harbaugh said, matter-of-factly.

“Oh, Barney. I thought it was Barney Rubble (Flintstones) for a second,” Samuelsen said, trying to cover up his confusion that probably no one else who heard the interview would have had.

Harbaugh didn’t miss a beat.

“Barney makes it simple,” he said. “He teaches life lessons to the kids that they can understand. That was always the most effective way. Explain it like I’m a fourth-grader. Tell me like I’m in the fourth grade so I can understand this. He does a magnificent job of that. He’s a real gifted teacher. I think those are some of the biggest factors.”

Other highlights from Harbaugh’s interview:

►On who wins a race involving quarterbacks Shea Patterson, Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton (they all had significant runs against Wisconsin): “I’m really curious about that, too. I always get curious about that — who’s faster? You can’t just do 40s and find out. I’ve always just believed in, race 'em. Let’s run a race in the football uniform. (Samuelsen interjected: "Do you know the coach? The coach could probably arrange it"). We do it from time to time, not so much during the middle of the season, especially with your quarterbacks. Probably not the smart thing to do. I would love to do it. I would love to say, ‘Joe, Shea and Dylan, let’s come up here and race. Let’s just race.’ Something to think about. At some point in the offseason would love to see that race."

►He was asked if he understands the anxieties of Michigan fans heading into the MSU game: “You’re asking me if I understand? Yes, I understand. I grew up in this rivalry, played in this rivalry, coached in this rivalry. I understand it thoroughly.”

►He was told MSU coach Mark Dantonio said there has been more sportsmanship in the UM-MSU game the last years and credited Harbaugh. Dantonio said Harbaugh respects the game: “Yeah, I have a deep, abiding respect for the game of football and love for it. This is a big game. It’s always been a big game, is a big game and always going to be a big game.”

►On if he’s the same coach during a rivalry week: “It’s a rivalry, in-state, big game. It’s treated as such.”

►Does he ever worry about the emotions of his players getting too high this week: “We strive to play, we want to play our best, we want to play hard, we want to play smart. I’ve been impressed with our team in those two regards. They’re playing really hard and really smart.”

►How can Michigan stop MSU quarterback Brian Lewerke: “It’s not easy. He’s a very talented quarterback. When you can throw the ball really well, and you can run it really well, and he’s got a runner’s knack — he’s really slippery in the pocket — it’s going to take everybody being in their rush lanes and not giving him a gap, because he’ll find it. He’s got the ability to throw the ball down field. Very good touch. He’s a very accurate guy. He’s a competitive, winning quarterback. He’s got that winning factor. I’ve always thought that about him.”

►On Felton Davis being one of MSU’s best receivers: “Penchant for the big play, no doubt about it. (Lewerke’s) got several good targets. And the defense, their linebacker corps is one of the best in the Big Ten. They’re really well-coached. This is a team where you don’t see guys, big open gaps. You don’t see people running free in the secondary. They adjust quickly. They’ve got plenty of their scheme. They’ll make the adjustment if they get hurt or something comes open on the previous play you didn’t really catch, the quarterback didn’t recognize it or somebody didn’t recognize it, or didn’t have the right play called, they’ll adjust before they get hurt with something. They’re a really good football team.”


Twitter: @chengelis